Business IT has been more cautious to give up hardware and control. Yet we’re using more cloud-based technologies in our personal lives—from Flickr and Facebook to Dropbox and iCloud. We’re increasingly embracing digital formats and increasingly demanding access to our files, photos and music wherever we are and with whatever technologies we’re carrying around.

Businesses, it’s past time to get comfortable in the business cloud.

WRDS (Wharton Research Data Services) has been at the forefront of data access, storage and analysis via cloud computing, and over the years we’ve learned a few things. As the business IT field evolves, we’re seeing trends in cloud-based usage that are worth noting.

You’re probably most familiar with software-as-a-service (SaaS), which offers software that’s hosted externally, usually through a Web browser. Project management stalwart Basecamp is one of the best known and widely utilized. Salesforce is the typical sales management example. By removing the software, creating mobile access and integrating social media elements into customer research and retention, cloud-based sales tracking platforms can handle the nuanced and complex relationships that are a reality today. Cloud-based tools are helping integrate far more data and insights into our business relationship management, and are not as complicated for staff to switch over to as you might think.

For example, Salesforce has been adding integration into desktop applications like Outlook, which allows organizations to take advantage of cloud applications while staff continues to work with familiar platforms.

For cloud usage in lieu of hardware, you’ll want to explore infrastructure-as-a-service options (IaaS). These allow businesses to rent computing power and disk space to create a more nimble and flexible IT infrastructure. Time and configuration issues are minimal now, and can easily meet expanding needs.

While startups might have their entire infrastructure in the cloud with no investment in server hardware, established companies are more likely to use the cloud for business continuity or cloud bursting—using the cloud to handle peak demand.

Ensuring the cloud provider can support your existing virtual computing platform—be it VMWare, Citrix or Microsoft—is critical. More companies are making a business out of simplifying the cloud infrastructure and creating a layer between the user and Amazon’s EC2 cloud, for example. The service helps provide, configure and manage organizations’ cloud services more easily.

Developers and companies reliant on application development for their business models are seeing a major shift in how business is done thanks to platform-as-a-service (PaaS). We’ll see lots of growth for business development and usage in this realm. By allowing use of multiple tools and collaboration in application development, the expansion, flexibility and creativity in this area is advancing quickly.

Wherever your business IT is now, it will become increasingly more cloud-based in the coming years as business further embraces what you did years ago when you created your Flickr account.